In Professor Tom James' History of Education class, Cedric struggles to keep up, as he does in general with classes. It's a beautiful day, so after Spanish class he decides to indulge. Doctor Korb sends him $200 on the fifteenth of each month for spending money, and Cedric decides to eat at Cafe Paragon, a favorite haunt of Brown university denizens. While eating, he overhears two white professors speak disparagingly of affirmative action; leaving the restaurant, he runs into his Richard Wright seminar instructor, a graduate student named Stephan Wheelock, and greets him in passing. The next day in the seminar, discussion steers to why Richard Wright placed the companion essay "How 'Bigger' was Born" at the end of the book - which is derailed when a student points out the essay is at the front of his own copy of the book.
In their dorm room, Cedric and Rob have come to an agreement about who decides what music to play in their room. The first month has been increasingly problematic: Cedric takes issue with Rob's lack of cleanliness and taste in music, even as he envies his roommate's popularity and is forced to take phone messages for him. While Rob is enjoying the social side of college life a great deal, Cedric remains wary of steering off-course. One Saturday night, he refuses yet another invitation to go out and party; two nights later, on October 1, Cedric decides to drop by the dorm room of John Frank and Zayd Dohrn. There, he is surprised at the hip hop and R&B artists in Zayd's CD collection. He becomes interested in Zayd, though he recalls with distaste a conversation they had in the first week of school about oral sex.
Chiniqua Milligan is the only other black student in Unit 15, as well as a fellow student in Wheelock's Wright seminar. The day after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, Chiniqua runs into Cedric and tells him about a mandatory outreach meeting regarding this topic: Cedric had ignored it, but Chiniqua attended, emphasizing she was the only black person there before pointing out the typical impotence of that exercise. As a gifted student who is used to interacting with white students in high school, Chiniqua is experimenting more with black culture now that she's in college. She repeatedly tries to persuade Cedric to visit Harambee House, Brown's only black dorm, but he continues to resist.
A few nights later, Cedric drops by Zayd, who he now sees as trustworthy. They discuss O.J. Simpson as well as Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry; Cedric notes how his presence is valued by other students, and that they take on his speech patterns a little when speaking with him. A few nights later, Zeina Mobassaleh asks Cedric about a reconciliation with Rob Burton, but he demurs. Soon after, Cedric forgets to pass along a message to Rob, who ends up waiting for a canceled study session. This leads to a heated argument between Cedric and Rob, with Rob going to his friends afterwards and Cedric seeking out Zayd and, not finding him in his room, leaving a message on his door.
Back in Washington, D.C., Cedric Gilliam has violated parole with his drug use and is sought by U.S. Marshalls. He decides to turn himself in to Captain Roy Grillo, a parole supervisor from Lorton. At his parole hearing, Cedric's current girlfriend Sherene brings attorney Idas Daniel, whom Cedric had heard about during his previous jail stay. Faced with parole board member Enrique Rivera, Cedric finds himself speaking up about participating in an in-patient drug rehabilitation program. Rivera grants him this, but Cedric Senior discovers such rehab programs are very difficult to get into, as prison cutbacks affect availability. At first he decides to write a letter to Cedric Junior, then opts against it.
At Brown University, Cedric is dismayed at the grade he received on his midterm paper for Calculus. He expected to do better, as it was just one level above beginner math. His roommate problem has cooled down, as Robert has taken to spending all his time with his friends on the third floor. New problems arise, however, when Cedric is teased with some homosexual banter while hanging out in Zayd and John's room. Such teasing is something the white guys don't mind but which offends Cedric and drives him away. He locks himself up in his room only to find a homosexual message signed by Ira and John left for him on his door. He confronts Ira in the middle of the night about the message, who denies knowing anything about it, and Cedric's yelling wakes up the rest of the dorm. A few days later, Zayd speaks to his friend Bear Beinfeld about Cedric. Zayd is the son of two counterculture icons who were once fugitives and have since reformed themselves. A couple of weeks pass, and Zayd speaks to Cedric about the new Tupac Shakur album; Zayd says he was named after Tupac's uncle, Zayd Shakur, who was a radical black activist his parents knew. With some mending started, the two students buy a CD at Sam Goody's together.
Tensions between Cedric and Rob develop as they negotiate their living conditions. Cedric's upbringing
contrasts sharply to the more permissive and socially adept choices made by Rob. However, Cedric quickly
befriends Zayd, who is comfortable discussing racial matters and is not judgmental about Cedric's opinions.
Zayd's unique background is reinforced when it is revealed that he is named after the Black Panther uncle of
Beyond that particular bond, Cedric alienates himself from his peers at Brown by condemning their willingness to party, drink, and have sex. Such moral rectitude was necessary for Cedric to survive his time at Ballou, but at Brown this stance seems less productive as it stunts social growth. His inability to accept the homosexual banter of people in his dorm further exposes the rift in attitudes between himself and others: based on his home neighborhood's sexual mores and insecurity about his masculinity, Cedric gets angry at even playful intimations along this line. This lack of tolerance - and the need to expand his view of acceptable social behavior - is one of the great struggles Cedric faces in his first year at Brown.
Back at Washington, D.C., Cedric Gilliam makes important choices of his own, as he decides to turn himself in to the authorities and request to go into rehab for his drug addiction. This not only shows the ability to correct one's wrong choices, but also paves the way for Cedric Senior to slowly make amends with Cedric Junior.